2015 Mazda Mazda3

Starting MSRP: $16,945 - $26,595

Estimated MPG: 29 city / 41 hwy

2015 Mazda Mazda3 Review

If you're looking for a compact car that is more sporty than practical, you won't have to compromise with the 2015 Mazda Mazda3, since it's both a lot of fun to drive and a great value in terms of fuel efficiency and bang for the buck.

By David Pratt
Last Updated 05/03/2016

Little has changed on the 2015 Mazda3 since last year, when it saw a major redesign inside and out. Available as a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback, the 2015 Mazda3 comes in six trim levels. The Mazda3 i SV, i Sport, i Touring and i Grand Touring models employ Mazda's Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, while s Touring and s Grand Touring trims come with a more powerful Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Both engines are engineered to provide maximum fuel-efficiency and plenty of low and midrange torque, which is where many drivers want it. The biggest change for 2015 is that you can now get a manual transmission with the bigger engine.

The redesigned Mazda3 gets a lot of attention - even in the base trim – for getting so much right. With a starting price just under $17,000, the 2015 Mazda3 offers impressive drivability, fuel-efficiency, space and styling. It also pleases with hot tech features like an available 7-inch touch-screen infotainment system.

Exterior

Exterior
8

The front of our test Mazda3 hatchback looks sporty, with a cheerful black scooped grille and distinctive halogen headlights and fog lights (fog lights are missing on the base trim). The hatchback version with a rear spoiler and dual exhaust may strike you as more distinctive and sporty than the sedan. To my eye, its wider back end saps curb appeal when viewed from the side or from behind. In fact, it looks like a throwback to the hatchbacks of yesteryear, an unfortunate consequence of ensuring that there’s adequate space for rear storage. The contours of the side panels dip in the middle and rise over the front tires, and the narrow windows are sharply tapered, lending a sense of athleticism but also bulk. With its low ground clearance, it's the opposite of a crossover.

The sedan version adds about five inches of length to the car and trims away the bulk in back, making it look more like other compact sedans.

The power-sliding glass moonroof with sunshade is standard or optional for all but the base trim. The i Sport comes with 16-inch steel alloy wheels. Mazda3 i Touring and i Grand Touring models come with 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, while the s Touring and s Grand Touring get 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels. LED daytime running lights are including for the s Grand Touring.

The optional $1,700 Appearance Package on our test vehicle included a front air dam, rear hatch spoiler, side sill extensions and a skirt around the rear bumper.

Interior

Interior
9

The Mazda3’s interior design is simply delightful. The interior is a sophisticated palette of charcoal black, cream contrasts in the door panels and seats and matte aluminum trim around instruments and controls. Red stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, brake handle, gear shifter and center armrest are a fine detail adding to the overall feeling of craftsmanship. For just a thousand dollars, step up to the i Touring to get these very appealing refinements along with some exterior flourishes. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel is standard.

The dashboard's sculpted angles and textured, soft-touch surfaces blend seamlessly with other textured surfaces around the instrument panel, glove compartment, center stack and doors. 

Even the rounded shapes and placement of air vents and audio speakers showcase the Mazda3’s minimalist design. Subtle contrasting textures act as grace notes around the design of the sunshield over the main instruments, which is shaped to mirror the curve of the steering wheel.

Seating five, the front sport seats are spacious, but the back seats are a little tight and closed in since the rear windows are small. A wide center armrest with cup holders can be dropped down for back-seat passengers. The 60/40 split-folding rear seats fold down individually when needed to expand the cargo area.

From the driver’s seat, shoulder checking requires some head craning to peer around the side pillars. Starting with the i Grand Touring, the driver's seat is power-adjustable with a manual lumbar adjustment, and both seats at this trim level and above include three heat settings. Seating materials get progressively nicer moving through the trims: from cloth to premium cloth, then leatherette and finally leather. The perforated leather-trim in the s Grand Touring model looked great and was quite comfortable.

Performance

Performance
10

The Mazda3 is front-wheel drive exclusively. The direct-injected, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the s Touring and s Grand Touring takes regular gas and is rated at 184 horsepower, with EPA rating of 26/35 mpg city/highway with the six-speed manual transmission. Models with this engine and the six-speed automatic get 27/37 mpg. Lower trims share a direct-injected 2.0-liter four--cylinder engine rated at 155 horsepower. Models with the base engine get 29/41 mpg city/highway with the six-speed manual, or 30/40 mpg highway with the automatic.

A six-speed manual transmission graced our Mazda3 s Grand Touring test vehicle. 

I enjoyed shifting smoothly through the gears without the engine ever feeling like it was straining. In fact, the large sharp analog tachometer in the center of the instrument panel barely nudged above 3,000 rpm, unless I was keeping it in third or fourth gear to pass other cars. A digital display on the left helpfully shows your current gear and prompts you when it’s time to switch gears. Even at 70 mph, the engine felt like it had plenty of power left to spare. If you encounter a lot of stop-and-go traffic, the available six-speed automatic may make more sense.

At highway speed, the cabin was satisfactorily shielded from road noise, but there was a bit of wind noise. The Mazda3 deftly handles lane shifts and turns, and I enjoyed the responsiveness between your hands on the wheel and the tires on the road.

Technology

Technology
10

One of the gee-whiz features of the 2015 Mazda3 is a discreet rectangle of Plexiglas that pops up on the dash at start up. It's a head-up digital display of your current speed. You can turn it off, but the Plexiglas doesn't retract unless the car is turned off. When cruise control is on, the head-up display also shows that. Viewed through the steering wheel, the sharp analog tachometer is the central focus of the instrument panel. To its right is a nice digital display for fuel, outside temperature and fuel economy.

The base 2015 Mazda3 has power door locks, power windows, air conditioning, a USB port and an auxiliary input jack.

Higher trims offer features like Pandora Internet radio integration and 911 automatic emergency notifications, which are both accessed through an easy-to-use infotainment system with a 7-inch touch screen. A large control knob offers an alternative way to navigate through the infotainment screens while driving. The screen is not embedded in the dash, but rather sits discreetly on top of it like a 7-inch tablet stood on its edge. SiriusXM satellite radio with a trial subscription is optional on the i Touring model and standard on the top three trims. Mazda's advanced keyless entry system with push-button start is also standard most trims.

The nine-speaker Bose sound system is standard on the top three trims (optional for the i Touring). It sounds terrific. Similarly, available across these trims is a dual-zone automatic climate control system.

Safety

Safety
10

The 2015 Mazda3, when equipped with optional front crash protection technology, was named a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Both the sedan and hatchback versions earned the IIHS' top rating of “Good” in all crash test categories. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Mazda3 the highest overall rating of five stars.

With the exception of the base trim, valuable standard safety features include blind spot monitoring, a backup camera and rear cross traffic alert, which is a nice enhancement to that camera.

Advanced safety technologies are options on the s Grand Touring Trim, and it’s too bad they aren't available on lower trim levels. This safety package includes selectable automatic high beam control, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning.

Cost-Effectiveness

Cost-Effectiveness
10

For less than $17,000, the base Mazda3 proves that you can get a compact car with impressive fuel efficiency, driving dynamics and safety ratings. As time goes on and these cars appear on the used car market, they will likely be available at a lower price than similar cars from other Japanese and Korean automakers.

The real value play, however, is in getting into the 2.5-liter versions that are loaded with enticing technologies like the head-up display, infotainment system and advanced keyless entry. The s Grand Touring model with the Technology package offers valuable safety technologies that you would have to pay thousands more to get in higher end vehicles.

Overall

Overall
9

Unless you’re turned off by the Mazda3’s styling, or you need a larger rear seat for kids or carpoolers, the Mazda3 is hard to beat. It offers notable fuel economy and performance, along with useful tech features and comfortable front seats. If you have your heart set on a compact car with a manual transmission and a sporty ride, you really need to test drive the 2015 Mazda3.